The writer is an Islamabad-based TV journalist and tweets @FarrukhKPitafi
Does history move in circles or progresses in a spiral or dialectical pattern? Is it really progressive or retrogressive? Man evolved from apes but this progress, at least physically, peaked and are we gradually tracing our step backwards? Evolution of technology is not quite the evolution of thoughts or ideas, is it? So, is our thought also progressing? I would have subscribed to the progress of ideas theory in a heartbeat had it not been for the prevalence of racial and religious prejudices in the 21st century.
Let me tell you that I do not buy Toynbee’s definition of civilisations, nor Huntington’s utilitarian faith in the inevitability of their clash. To me, civilisation is a stage in the evolution of society. There are parts of the world which are not as civilised yet. There are others which are. But even in civilised societies you see growth of hate and prejudice against what people choose to identify as the cultural and racial other. So it is a profoundly sad and heartbreaking moment in the evolution of human race when you realise that racial differences still matter. There are genuine reasons too. Politicians around the world have learned through experience that hate sells better than empathy. Population is multiplying and humanity hasn’t been able to come up with a single peaceful plan to accommodate the demographic dividend, say, of a century later without resorting to sheer barbarism albeit in modern suits. And the establishment of each country exhausts the attempts to unite all humanity under one collective security umbrella. So in such a situation all I can think of is to find a decent cave for myself and my family.
What is the end product here? More anger and more hatred. If you are not convinced, ask the Rohingyas trapped in a boat. Or the African tribes who are periodically subjected to cruelty. Or minorities of Iraq and Syria. Ask them if prejudice is dangerous at all. They will tell you what it is like to be really scared. Watching your children die before your eyes and not being able to do anything about it. Ask an Indian Muslim or Christian what it feels when a Hindu cleric suggests that all their men be neutered to stem the growth of their population. Pakistani minorities are not exactly living in paradise either but the number of people who empathise with them and fight for their cause is silently growing. But still, ask them, too, of the pain they have suffered because of prejudice.
So if after the end of ideational history, humanity, having failed to sustain the fruits of evolution, has opted for a reverse gear shift, should we expect Hitler to emerge soon? Religious fanatics would want you to prepare for the rapture and the rise of the Antichrist. But a prudent student of history may warn you that owing to the southward shift of power, a Hitler may most likely emerge from these parts. Do we have any close contenders?
Germany before the world wars suffered from a peculiar identity crisis. Watching other European powers dominate the world for centuries and not being able to make a mark must have left an indelible scar in the collective consciousness of the German people. The desire to assert their national identity caused two world wars. And the world initially reacted only with indifference. To some at least appeasing Hitler was a good idea. And then the world awoke from deep slumber with a start — only to find it was already quite late. Countless people would have to die before he could be contained.
The world has changed for the worse today. Big powers now have nuclear weapons. That leaves us with two contenders: China and India. If you have studied Chinese culture and politics closely you will know that it has various checks and balances to nip such evil in the bud. Even today, the prime purpose of Chinese work abroad doesn’t seem to be the projection of its power internationally or to export its culture but to make sure that Chinese economy and society progress in harmony. That leaves us with one country which values politics more than economy or societal harmony. Where one man’s rise to power seems to have radicalised the entire polity. Where unlike China, the appetite for sociopolitical reform is touching the lowest ebb. I won’t ask you to consider Modi the Hitler of our time but will surely request you to stay awake this once and keep your eyes on him.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 13th, 2015.